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Brooklynites wary of eating Chipotle after outbreaks of E. coli and Norovirus

December 10, 2015 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On Wednesday, the Brooklyn Heights Chipotle location was noticeably more empty than usual at lunchtime. Eagle photo by Scott Enman
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Chipotle has long captured the hearts of millennials across the country for its cheap, convenient, high-quality and sustainably sourced Mexican food.

Chipotle Mexican Grill boasts real non-GMO ingredients, free-range cattle and partnerships with farmers, ranchers and other suppliers who emphasize quality and responsibility.

But recent E. coli outbreaks in Washington state and Oregon have damaged Chipotle’s reputation, hurt the restaurant’s sales and forced the company to close 43 restaurants in those two states.  

Since those cases became public, further illnesses have been linked to Chipotle in Illinois, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

More recently, at least 80 students at Boston College fell ill after eating at a Chipotle, including several players on the Boston College basketball team.

The Boston cases were linked to Norovirus.

According to NPR, “Norovirus is sometimes overlooked, because it is less likely to kill you than disease-causing forms of E. coli or salmonella. But it is by far the most common source of foodborne illness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Norovirus is highly contagious and is generally spread from person to person.”

Chipotle released a statement on their website regarding the outbreaks.

“Thousands of food sample tests from Chipotle restaurants linked to the incident have shown no E. coli. No ingredients that are likely to have been connected to this restaurant remain in Chipotle’s supply system … Chipotle is aggressively taking actions to implement industry leading food safety and food handling practices in all of its restaurants and throughout its supply chain.”

Similarly, in 2006, fast food restaurant Taco Bell was linked to an E. coli outbreak and saw its business decrease sharply.

Chipotle locations in Brooklyn, which are spread out across Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Downtown, Fort Greene, Bay Ridge, Mill Basin and Midwood, have seen sales dip following the outbreaks.

While there has not been any reported outbreak in the borough, Brooklynites seem to be wary of the news, and most Chipotle locations have been eerily vacant this week.

On Wednesday, the Brooklyn Heights branch, which around lunchtime usually boasts a line that wraps around the restaurant and out the door, had not a single person in line.

The Cobble Hill location had only a handful of people eating inside.

The Brooklyn Eagle reached out to the managers from the Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill locations. Their responses were similar.

“I can’t answer that question,” said the Brooklyn Heights manager. “Go to our website for any answers.”

“Corporate tells me I’m not supposed to answer those types of questions,” the Cobble Hill manager responded.

The Eagle also spoke to some Brooklynites who chose to dine at Chipotle in spite of the recent news.  

Nell, from Bushwick, who asked that only his first name to be used, said, “I know for a fact that the Brooklyn Heights branch is making sure they don’t have [E. coli] and the New York area is E. coli free. Plus, the outbreaks were only in Oregon, so I shouldn’t be worried.” 

When informed that there were outbreaks of Norovirus in Boston, Nell’s eyes widened.  

“No, I didn’t know that,” he replied.  

David Inkeles from Boerum Hill said he’s “not too worried. It’s cheap, convenient and its good food. I do think about the recent news when I walk into the store because there are noticeably less people. It’s practically empty.”

Frank, an attorney from Scarsdale who works in Brooklyn Heights who also asked that only his first name be used, had an interesting stance on the topic.

“Yeah, I could get E. coli — but I could also get hit by a car crossing the street.”

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